October 16, 2018

Independent poll shows Carlos Curbelo with a slim lead over Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

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@alextdaugherty

An independent poll shows Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo with a 1 point lead over Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—and a contingent of undecided voters large enough to decide the election.

A poll conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies and Telemundo 51 from October 3 to October 9 with 625 registered voters who said they were likely to vote showed a race that is essentially a toss-up for Curbelo’s Miami to Key West congressional seat that President Donald Trump lost more than 16 percentage points two years ago. Curbelo captures 46 percent support while Mucarsel-Powell takes 45 percent. Nine percent of voters are undecided as both campaigns spend millions on TV advertising.

Curbelo once had a lead in the race but Mucarsel-Powell has closed the gap in recent weeks through increased TV spending. Curbelo is better known than Mucarsel-Powell according to the poll and has a higher favorability rating, though Mucarsel-Powell has a lower unfavorable rating than Curbelo. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially a tie.

More here.

Sensing an upset, Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC attacks Donna Shalala

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

National Republicans are getting serious about trying to beat Donna Shalala

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is running a Spanish-language ad targeting Shalala starting today. The six-figure buy on TV and digital platforms is the super PAC’s first foray into retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district, a Miami-based seat where President Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points. 

The ad titled “$7” tries to portray Shalala as out of touch with working class voters in the district, noting that she lived in a mansion that eventually sold for $9 million while serving as the president of the University of Miami and led the university when its janitorial staff went on strike because their wages amounted to about $7 an hour. Shalala’s Republican opponent, former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, levied a similar attack on Shalala during a recent Telemundo debate.

“Donna Shalala is just another politician who puts herself first,” said CLF communications director Courtney Alexander. “As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a $9 million mansion, but only paid university janitors $7 an hour while denying them health insurance. Donna Shalala is out for herself, not Floridians.”

The ad includes footage of a mansion juxtaposed with Shalala giving a speech in her UM regalia while criticizing her leadership when university janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages, attacks that she also faced during the Democratic primary. 

“As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a nine-million dollar mansion,” the ad says. “But only paid university janitors seven dollars an hour while denying them health insurance.The scandal made national news and Shalala was called an enemy of the working poor.”

More here.

October 11, 2018

New poll shows Democrat Shalala trailing GOP opponent in a district Trump lost badly

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@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Donna Shalala may be in trouble.

Shalala, a Democrat running in a district that President Donald Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, is trailing Republican TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 2 percentage points in a Mason Dixon-Telemundo poll. The independent poll’s margin of error was 4 percentage points and included a pro-Trump non-party candidate who could siphon votes from Salazar.

Salazar’s unique background as a journalist in a party dominated by President Donald Trump and her appeal with older, Spanish-speaking voters has enabled the GOP to remain competitive. Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates, won a competitive Democratic primary by less than 5 percentage points and has faced criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans alike for her tenure leading the University of Miami, when campus janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages and the school acquired Cedars Medical Center.

“The numbers look good, they’re great,” Salazar campaign manager Jose Luis Castillo said. “She’s focused on job creation, healthcare, the environment and education. These numbers really reflect that her message, her ideas and vision are continuing to resonate throughout with voters in District 27.”

The poll of 625 registered likely voters was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, before Shalala began airing a TV ad that attempts to tie Salazar to Trump. Forty-three percent of respondents approve of Trump while 46 percent disapprove, according to the poll, while Salazar has a net favorable rating of 22 percentage points and Shalala has a net favorability rating of 4 points, though more voters recognize her than Salazar. Forty-two percent of voters support Shalala while 44 percent support Salazar, with 13 percent undecided.

“In our view, the Mason-Dixon poll is an outlier,” Shalala spokesperson Mike Hernandez said. “It does not match our internal polls both in terms of what the electorate will be or voter intention.”

Shalala’s campaign noted that Trump’s approval ratings in the district in the poll are much higher than expected and that a 2012 Mason Dixon poll sponsored by the Miami Herald showed Barack Obama winning Miami-Dade by 9 points when he ended up winning the county by 24 points.

“It’s difficult for our campaign to accept that this is the only congressional district in the country that Trump is becoming dramatically more popular,” Hernandez said.

Read more here.

October 08, 2018

Everybody knows her name, but Donna Shalala is finding it difficult to get to Congress

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@lesleyclark

Donna Shalala is so well known in Miami she has to tell voters it’s “really me” when she makes campaign calls. Otherwise, she says, some people assume it’s a robocall.

She’s big in Miami: the former University of Miami president who raised academic standards and billions of dollars, boosted the school’s national profile and raided other universities to put the medical school on the map. She was famous even before she arrived, as a Bill Clinton ally and the longest-serving Health and Human Services Secretary in U.S. history.

Outside the university, she eagerly promoted her adopted hometown: “She’d show up herself, not just send the third assistant to the vice president,” former Beacon Council president Frank Nero said of Shalala, who aided his efforts to lure companies to Miami. “She’d come in and she’d tell executives: ‘I could have gone anywhere, but I chose to come to Miami.’ She became one of the best sales people we had for Miami-Dade.”

Yet Shalala finds herself in a tight race against a political rookie for an open congressional seat that Democrats figured would be theirs after Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, announced she is retiring. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the Democratic-leaning district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

As recently as January, Republicans fretted they were unlikely to find someone for the seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Ros-Lehtinen in 2016 had faced a close reelection against a largely self-funded candidate who did not have the backing of national Democrats.

Now it’s Democrats who are worried: Two recent internal polls showed Shalala either losing or nearly tied with her Republican opponent, Maria Elvira Salazar, a telegenic former Spanish-language TV host who is well known in the district, where 63 percent of the voters are Hispanic.

Shalala, who won a crowded Democratic primary in August, says early polls showed that people know her résumé. But she says the race will turn not on her record, but her character.

“It can’t be ‘I’m Donna Shalala and you ought to vote for me,’ ” Shalala said in a recent interview at a South Miami restaurant. “You have to be out there, talking to people about what kind of a human being you are.”

But there are worries that Shalala, as accomplished as her record may be, isn’t connecting on the trail, especially against a Spanish-speaking television anchor accustomed to the camera.

“Donna’s a very no-nonsense person and that can come across as brusque because she likes to cut to the chase,” acknowledges Katy Sorenson, a former Miami-Dade commissioner who created the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami with Shalala’s blessing. “But she’s someone who cares deeply, and that’s reflected by her life and her career.”

Read more here.

‘We are not the enemies’: GOP candidate touts journalism career in congressional race

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Maria Elvira Salazar is trying to hug her way to Congress.

The telegenic former TV host turned Republican candidate is at Las Mercedes senior center in West Dade, a campaign stop full of elderly Cuban-American voters who helped fuel the GOP’s dominance in Miami for the last 40 years.

Everyone recognizes her. Most do not speak English.

Salazar works the room, hugging dozens who are eager to chat with someone they saw on TV for years. One asks her how she’s in such good shape for a 56-year-old.

“I don’t eat dairy,” Salazar replies with a laugh.

She is seeking to pull off an upset in the country’s most Democratic-leaning district currently under GOP control in a year where Democrats are poised to make gains in Congress. Her opponent is former University of Miami president and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates ever.

In an era where President Donald Trump shouts “fake news” at unflattering news coverage and belittles journalists who ask him tough questions, the Republican Party is putting its faith in a woman who touts her 35-year career in news reporting — and has vowed to serve as a centrist not beholden to the conservative wing or the president.

Republicans need to keep 24 seats from flipping blue if they want to maintain the House of Representatives for the latter half of Trump’s first term in office. Salazar, who voted for Trump, is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, one that Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016, the largest margin of defeat for the president in any district held by a Republican. But Salazar has the support of retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — who won reelection in 2016 by 10 percentage points despite Trump’s presence on the ballot — and local Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“Being a journalist for 35 years it’s very difficult to stop being one,” Salazar said. “I covered the first year of [Trump’s] presidency so there is my record. I’ve always covered the issues, not on the fluff or on the words.”

Salazar is campaigning as Ileana 2.0. She’s indicated an openness to a ban on assault weapons, backs Curbelo’s new carbon tax proposal and says she’ll fight for comprehensive immigration reform if elected.

And she’s aware of the potential challenges Trump poses to her candidacy.

“The Republican Party, its values, the values that are entrenched are bigger than the president,” Salazar said. “I understand that Trump is an unconventional guy, I get that sometimes his words are not the proper ones, but I see what he’s done for the country, and what he’s done for China and North Korea no other president did.”

Salazar insists that she’s seeing a path to victory, and polling shows a closer-than-expected contest between Shalala, a former Clinton administration official and Clinton Foundation executive who does not speak Spanish, and Salazar, a known presence on Spanish-language television.

“Surprise!” she says when asked about her potential to steal what should have been a Democratic layup. “I can’t tell you the secret but the path to victory is there.”

Read more here.

Miami Republicans running for reelection grapple with Trump’s immigration record

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@alextdaugherty

Donald Trump’s first year in office forced Miami Republicans to step on the third rail of GOP politics: immigration.

The president banned foreign nationals from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the country weeks after he took office, setting off protests around the country. He announced the end of an Obama-era program to prevent the deportation of immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children, calling on Congress to act. The Trump administration began separating families and children who crossed the border illegally, and some parents were deported while their kids remained in U.S. custody. And Trump canceled a temporary program that allowed immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation.

The three Miami Republicans in Congress, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, were opposed to all of these policy changes. The trio have the largest shares of eligible Latino voters in their districts among all Republicans in Congress and have tried for years to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. They want to prevent their law-abiding constituents from being deported, but they’ve been stymied by their own party.

All three GOP-held seats are being contested by serious Democratic candidates. Former nonprofit fundraiser Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running against Curbelo, former University of Miami president Donna Shalala is running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and former judge Mary Barzee Flores is running against Diaz-Balart.

“That’s been my biggest disappointment,” Diaz-Balart said about the lack of an immigration compromise in the past two years. “In order to get that issue done, you need to put hyper-partisanship aside. You need to have the trust of everybody around the table.”

Republicans in Congress have been unable to overrule the president’s executive order, find a solution for the young immigrants known as Dreamers and help individuals receiving Temporary Protected Status. Instead, they’ve been reliant on liberal judges to prevent deportations. Last week, a federal judge in California ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS, and Dreamers remain in legal limbo weeks from Election Day.

“Such great news for our South Florida community!” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted last week after the TPS decision. “We have wonderful folks from these countries who have been here legally and their pending deportations would be heartaches for their familias!”

The Democrats seeking to replace the trio largely agree with the South Florida Republicans on immigration policy, though they likely wouldn’t support handing Trump money for his border wall in exchange for protecting existing immigrants from deportation. They’re arguing that a Democratic majority in Congress is the way to get an immigration solution.

There isn’t any evidence that Curbelo and Diaz-Balart, along with Maria Elvira Salazar, the Republican seeking to replace Ros-Lehtinen, could convince the majority of their party to come up with a solution should they all win on Nov. 6. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart were part of a small group of lawmakers who first negotiated with Democrats to find a solution for Dreamers, an effort that fell two votes short. Then, they tried to negotiate with conservatives in their own party, an effort that saw a conservative compromise immigration bill fail badly.

“It’s truly disappointing that after months of broken promises from Speaker [Paul] Ryan for Dreamers, Congressman Curbelo caved so easily to House Republican Leadership and handed over every piece of leverage on DACA to the most anti-immigrant Republicans in Congress,” Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, said shortly after Curbelo’s compromise effort failed this summer.

More here.

October 04, 2018

Liberal group calling for Trump's impeachment gets involved in Mario Diaz-Balart's race

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

NextGen America will now have a presence in all three competitive House races in Miami-Dade County. 

The liberal group led by California billionaire Tom Steyer that wants to impeach Donald Trump announced Thursday that they plan to expand their voter registration and youth organizing effort to Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's district, where he faces a competitive reelection challenge from Demcorat Mary Barzee Flores

“All across the country, we’re seeing an unprecedented level of enthusiasm from young voters that has the potential to fundamentally reshape our political system and create a society that is more just and fair.” Steyer said in a statement“If we are going to deliver a more just, progressive future, it means being on the ground engaging those young voters everyday to make sure they know the power they have to make change happen on the issues they’re passionate about.”

Diaz-Balart's district, which stretches from Northwest Dade to the outskirts of Naples, is the most conservative congressional district in South Florida. NextGen already has a presence in Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district and the open seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Miami-Dade seats are among 35 House seats the group is targeting nationwide along with Florida's U.S. Senate and governor elections. 

NextGen said it has collected nearly 3,000 voter registrations in Ros-Lehtinen's district and about 1,500 in Curbelo's as of October 1. The group has knocked on about 15,000 doors between the two districts and over 87,000 doors across the state of Florida. 

Steyer was an early backer of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and has vocally stated his support for liberal priorities like impeaching Trump that some Democrats worry will hurt them at the ballot box. Barzee Flores said she would work to impeach Trump while running in the Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, and hasn't changed her position since switching races to a more conservative district that Trump narrowly won in 2016. 

NextGen also announced plans to get involved in Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan's district in the Sarasota area and an open Central Florida seat occupied by retiring Republican Rep. Dennis Ross, two seats where Republicans are favored but Democrats see as potential pickups. The group is already active in Democratic Central Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy's district and Republican Rep. Brian Mast's Treasure Coast distirct.

October 02, 2018

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is outspending Carlos Curbelo on TV. Will it pay off?

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@alextdaugherty

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has been running against Carlos Curbelo for more than a year, but the last three weeks could prove pivotal in her quest to unseat one of the Republican Party’s strongest candidates.

Mucarsel-Powell and her Democratic allies are spending around $1 million on billingual television and radio advertising this week, a spending pace that’s been in place since mid-September, according to a source familiar with media buying in the district. Though Mucarsel-Powell hasn’t been able raise more money than Curbelo, one of the GOP’s best fundraisers, she’s outspending him.

The aggressive pace is shifting momentum in one of the nation’s most-watched congressional races, in which Curbelo has seen his chances of reelection improve in the eyes of most prognosticators in recent weeks despite a national environment that favors Democrats. Mucarsel-Powell has peppered the airwaves with a biographical ad and an ad that touts Democrats’ efforts on healthcare in a district where more than 90,000 people are enrolled in the program.

The Mucarsel-Powell campaign “went up [on TV] before the primary and they have not come down since then, and the campaign has no plan to decrease this communication,” the source familiar with media buying said. “This wasn’t an early ‘I’m going to throw all my dollars on the table and have nothing left’ strategy.”

A new poll commissioned by Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign shows the race in a statistical tie, a big change from a Democratic poll in July that showed Curbelo with a seven percentage point lead over Mucarsel-Powell.

The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, shows Mucarsel-Powell with a one percentage point lead over Curbelo. Mucarsel-Powell’s 49-48 lead came after her campaign began spending money on TV advertising in August.

“I’ve been working on behalf of my community for over 20 years, and families here can trust I’ll be a genuine voice for them in Washington on the most important issues, like healthcare, jobs and the environment,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement.

The internal poll, which used live phone calls to landlines and cell phones in English and Spanish to reach 511 likely voters from Sept. 23-27, was conducted concurrently with Mucarsel-Powell’s ramped up spending. The poll’s margin of error is 4.9 percentage points, meaning that the race is essentially a tie.

Read more here.

October 01, 2018

How Parkland school massacre turned guns into a top 2018 campaign issue in Florida

Congress Gun Violence

@alextdaugherty

Gun rights have motivated portions of the Republican base in Florida for years, but the script has changed in 2018.

The National Rifle Association sued the state of Florida after Gov. Rick Scott and 67 state lawmakers with an “A” rating from the nation’s largest gun group signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. Congress passed a bill that authorizes funding for school safety measures after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, but hasn’t taken up other ideas that would limit access to firearms. Republicans running in competitive congressional races across Florida say they are open to a ban on assault weapons.

Parkland and the March For Our Lives movement started by a group of Broward County high school students have thrust gun politics into the top tier of issues ahead of the 2018 elections, where Democrats are hoping to keep Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and flip up to a half dozen congressional seats that could determine which party wins the majority in the House of Representatives.

“Even if you go back 10 years, it’s amazing how much this issue has changed,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “If you looked at the polling, people supported background checks and banning certain types of weapons, but the entire energy for voting was on the other side. A larger swath of the population is saying that if you’re not reasonable about gun safety, we’re not going to vote for you.”

Though Parkland is in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, congressional candidates in nearby Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have changed their tune on guns in the last year. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning district, called on Congress to ban devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like automatic rifles after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast cited his military experience when calling for an assault weapons ban after Parkland. Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican, said this week that she supports background checks on guns and is open to an assault-weapons ban.

All three breezed through their respective Republican primaries even though Mast drew two challengers after announcing his stance against assault weapons, and Salazar faced a host of challengers who were more conservative on guns.

“The threat that the NRA has made for years is that if you oppose us, you will lose,” Schale said, adding that zero Republican incumbents who signed the state-level gun bill or called for more gun restrictions after Parkland lost their primaries. “If you look at folks like Brian Mast who came out for an assault weapons ban... it’s hard to imagine in the past that a GOP member of Congress could come out with that position without being completely terrified of the NRA.”

Read more here.

Diaz-Balart grapples with Trump effect as he runs for reelection in South Florida

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

Florida’s master of backroom deals has 30 years of lawmaking experience, but Donald Trump’s propensity for governing with tweets and insults is making Mario Diaz-Balart’s job tougher.

The 56-year-old Miami Republican prides himself on being the state’s senior member of the powerful House committee tasked with overseeing federal spending and being a crucial voice on immigration issues in Washington. Unlike his South Florida counterparts Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, he doesn’t attract attention for publicly disagreeing with the president and is the only House member from Miami-Dade who voted for Trump in 2016.

But the messaging from the White House is hard to ignore as Diaz-Balart runs for reelection in District 25.

As Diaz-Balart sat down recently with an espresso — not his first caffeinated beverage of the day during hours-long spending talks — the president tweeted, without evidence, that a government-sponsored tally of 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria was a political ploy by Democrats to hurt him.

Diaz-Balart said he hadn’t seen it.

“I literally do not read tweets. I don’t watch the talk shows, I watch newscasts,” Diaz-Balart said. “ If you ask me the last time I listened to or watched a talking-heads show, which unfortunately now television news is pretty much all that except for a couple of newscasts, I don’t. I have a job to do and my job is to get things done.”

Trying to ignore Trump and the constant news he generates gives Diaz-Balart the ability to sidestep criticism of the president, but choosing to keep his mouth shut has opened him up to criticism that he won’t stand up for his mostly Hispanic constituents.

He didn’t respond to most of Trump’s claims on Puerto Rico, except when the president said he was “successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” a statement that is a direct jab at lawmakers like Diaz-Balart, who spent weeks crafting massive relief packages for Puerto Rico and Florida last year.

“The Constitution is pretty clear about that,” Diaz-Balart said, referring to Congress’ power of the purse.

If Diaz-Balart wins reelection in November, he will become the longest-tenured Republican in Congress from Florida — and the state’s most powerful House member if the GOP retains its House majority. His pitch to voters is a classic one for incumbents with clout: he’s the steady hand with experience in Washington since 2003 and the policy chops to best represent a majority Hispanic district with thousands of immigrants.

Diaz-Balart rarely makes cable news appearances, preferring instead to talk with reporters who cover the federal spending process or immigration talks in detail. He refuses to discuss private meetings, including the infamous White House session he attended where Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African countries as “shitholes.”

“If you look at the folks who get things done, they’re not the ones on MSNBC and Fox 20 times a day,” Diaz-Balart said. “They’re the ones who sit down quietly. In Congress, appropriations have become more difficult. It’s become more difficult because of hyper-partisanship from both sides. And yet we have a constitutional obligation to get those bills done and they’re ugly and they’re not always ideal. But if you look at those bills it’s a smaller and smaller group of us that work on them, who are willing to put partisanship aside, egos aside, who can communicate with Democrats and Republicans and the administration.”

But the traditional path to reelection for a powerful incumbent has been upended by a president who thwarts sensitive negotiations on issues — like finding a solution for so-called Dreamers — by constantly offering mixed messages to members of his own party, lessening the incentive for any Democrat to compromise. Diaz-Balart failed to find enough votes for an immigration compromise earlier this year, even though he rebuked GOP leaders by signing onto a petition that would have forced a series of immigration votes with the blessing of Democrats. He now faces former judge Mary Barzee Flores in the November election, his first serious opponent in a decade.

Read more here.